Busking in Vancouver: Lessons from Granville Island

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
Granville Island: The No-Brainer, so they say
Every Canadian I had spoken to about busking in Vancouver had said the same thing: Go to Granville Island. With a steady stream of tourists, buskers being welcome and good weather, what did I have to lose?

Apparently, $50 dollars for the license to play. I emerged from the organisation office with a lighter pocket, an access-all-areas busking licence and a warning from the busking coordinator: “Mind your volume. 4 complaints from shop/stall owners, we’ll have to pull you in for a chat”.

Return of the Nerves
I set up outside a café in Railspur alley and for the first in a very long time, I was nervous. Palm-sweatingly “oh-gosh-I’ve-forgotten-what-song-I-was-playing”, nervous. A captive audience sat no more than 5 metres away, squinting at the reflections from my super-shiny horn. The threat of having my card pulled if I was considered noisy hung over me. Playing outdoors, with projection while keeping the volume low proved to be difficult. By habit, I took in large amounts of air but was only able to let it out in a teeny tiny stream. I had to make extra exhalations to get rid of the stale air, which kept building. I was close enough to see their facial expressions. And they weren’t just walking by. They would be there for each and every single mistake, fluff and restart. And then have enough time to decide whether they thought the music was worth a contribution.

Children. Revisited.
When I play songs like “Favourite Things” or “Doe-A-Deer”, I suspect that children react favourably not because they know and love the tunes, but for a combination of other, subtler factors. The tunes are simple and catchy. I hold their attention by gently bobbing from side to side. More importantly their parents have stopped dragging them around and tend to sing along, while pointing at the loud shiny metal thingy. Children probably look at their parents and think "Oh, that is a good thing? Perhaps I should pay more attention". Mothers often mouth grateful thanks for a few minutes of welcome relief from having to be on the alert for the million and one things young children want to, but shouldn’t be allowed to do while out and about.

Distractions
From time to time, I have been guilty of resting on my musical laurels. A little “I’ll let the music do all the talking”. However, since arriving in Canada, the realisation that I am not such a virtuoso that my music will stop burgers en-route to open mouths or turn heads has begun to dawn, Researching busking tips online, I was reminded to ‘engage’ with the audience. One: That’s easy to say if you're playing the guitar. It’s difficult to say “Thank-you” around a sax mouthpiece that’s in use. Two: I often do the soulful “squint” when really enjoying a piece – now I’m finding it difficult to make and hold eye contact or acknowledge people by winking. While playing, I tend to lean forward and stick my bum out, so I tried straightening up as well as 'engaging' but I there were just too many things to concentrate on. I began fumbling tunes which, under normal conditions, I could play with my eyes closed (see the problem?)

Honour among buskers/The Polite response
One hour and $20 later, I packed up as another busker showed up for his allocated hour. We exchanged pleasantries and the oh-so-casually-asked question: “How’d you do?” to which the answer must always be a non-committal shrug/grunt and an “it was alright”. Anything happier appears to be gloating. Complaining is seen as sour grapes. Plus, being the new guy, it’s important to just figure out what’s going on. There may well be reasons for things on the ground which aren’t immediately apparent, play your slot, keep your mouth shut and your eyes open.

Location 2: Indoor Marketplaces & Vanishing Audiences
After Railspur, I took a small spot in the inside marketplace beside some food stalls and a table arrangement for around 50 people to enjoy general snackage. I waited for a long-haired guitarist to finish playing his last number - “Recession Blues” to a group of 5 teenagers who watched me set up, commented on how cool my sax looked and promptly disappeared as soon as the first notes of ‘Round Midnight” emerged. Apparently you can’t entertain an audience if it evaporates when you start playing.

Internalised Musical Snobbery
I wrapped up my 30-minute slot with Ravel’s Bolero. An older lady walked by, paused to root around in her purse and put a $2 coin in my case. “A bit of Miles Davis, eh? Very nice”. The musical snob within smirked. The starving musician without smiled gratefully as she wandered off, humming and blissfully ignorant. I looked down in my case - $6 for 30 minutes of music? Surely this wasn’t worth the pain. Firstly, there’s hardly time to get set up before it’s time to wrap up. Secondly, although people can hear you, by the time they’ve figured out where the music is coming from, they’ve already been carried past by the wave of bodies and are reluctant to turn back. Lastly, my repertoire needs tweaking to include instantly recognisable attention-grabbers that don’t invite the wrath of the stall owners.

Hmmmm.

Much work to do methinks
 

visionari1

Senior Member
Messages
1,606
Location
Out in the Countryside of Nelson NZ
Granville Island: The No-Brainer, so they say
Every Canadian I had spoken to about busking in Vancouver had said the same thing: Go to Granville Island. With a steady stream of tourists, buskers being welcome and good weather, what did I have to lose?

Apparently, $50 dollars for the license to play.




I looked down in my case - $6 for 30 minutes of music? Surely this wasn’t worth the pain. Firstly, there’s hardly time to get set up before it’s time to wrap up. Secondly, although people can hear you, by the time they’ve figured out where the music is coming from, they’ve already been carried past by the wave of bodies and are reluctant to turn back. Lastly, my repertoire needs tweaking to include instantly recognisable attention-grabbers that don’t invite the wrath of the stall owners.

Hmmmm.

Much work to do methinks

Hello tengu01

Hmmmm is right, I've recently gotten back into busking mode, and have been having moderate success. Sounds like your the places you were at were already busked out before you even got there.

Busking not about the dosh, it's about being able to play freely, having fun blowing some tunes/sound over the streets and environments of where ever your at. You get money because people percieve you as having fun, and they wish they could do it as well. Busking is the prime oppertunity to talk to people from any walk of life.......I can stop mid stream, take a breath, thank someone for coinage into the hat/case and continue on with the tune!

I like to wander around a bit follow people a little or improvise my actions as I play, especially with kids (the parents usually enjoy this, although not always)

I dress very colourfull , usually with a quirky hat.

last weekend I busked at the local farmers market (I was asked to by the organizers, so I was the only one there) I had a ball, only a small market with poor attendance of people, but that didn't matter, when ever some coins and even notes came into my hat I bought some broccoli, peanut butter, basil plants, and spinach. Frozen blueberries and drizzel cake. All these I put into my open sax case... gee I had some fun!

I found out lots of really interesting things like how to crack hazel nuts and what ingredients are in the home baking.

I probably made about $45 for 3 hours blowing, but I had fun and practiced lots of tunes and met lots of people...... not stressfull at all which is what your vancouver island busk came across as.

Best of luck with your future busks

Ps just finished the spinach tonight for tea.

cheers

Jimu
 
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tengu01

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
Hey there Jimu,

Thanks for the reply. It's funny how your mental attitude to what you're doing really affects how it turns out. When I was in vancouver and cash was running low, I played with the concern about making enough money, a low level humming in the back of my head. Once I had enough of a cash buffer, suddenly, things became so much more fun and the audience seemed to respond when I was in that frame of mind.

As you observed, Granville Island was well and truly busked out. Buskers on almost every corner and the general public were well-used to musicians. I did, however have one advantage over the majority of buskers there:There were hardly any other saxophonists. In 2 months, I saw 2 other saxophone buskers, one of whom I had previously met when he blew me away at a blues jam session, the other I noticed on a street corner after a hard day's busk.

Sounds like you had a great deal of fun playing the farmers market though, especially if you're the only one there and are there by invitation. Helps if the market stall owners actually know you or want you there :)

Cheers
 

Richard Perks

Member
Messages
165
Location
Nanaimo BC Canada
Vancouver Island

Hello teng01: Are you still near Vancouver? and will you be coming to Vancouver Island? I am only 5 minutes from the Ferry to Nanaimo. (not the Victoria one) it would be grewat to meet another member of the CafeSaxophone Forum. I can pretty well be available anytime. We have a blues session on Thursday night in downtown Nanaimo.:sax:
 
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tengu01

tengu01

Member
Messages
732
Location
London, UK
Hi there Saxman123,

Unfortunately, I have already been and gone. Am now back in the UK after 2 wonderfully musical months in Vancouver. I did however visit Vancouver Island to busk and it was a great deal of fun. With two friends, we piled into a van, loaded up an amp, a portable battery, a bass guitar and a drum machine and found a couple of good corners to unleash the funk wagon. In the spirit of guerilla busking, we pulled up, opened the boot, plugged in and started playing to the general public who were very, very kind to us. I have to say, people in British Colombia seem to very much appreciate good musicianship and often stopped to chat, drop donations and occasionally buy albums.

Even the police were nice. On the one occasion where there were noise complaints, they pulled up, had a listen, told us they really liked our stuff, but had to move us on. Then they gave us the address of the City Hall, where we could get a license and made recommendations of places where we could really rock out without fear of being moved on.

If anyone one else here gets a chance to head out to Vancouver, it's a great place to play and the people are just lovely. I'm planning on another visit next summer, so I'll definitely let you know when I'm around. It'd be lovely to meet up for a beer and a jam

Cheers :)
 
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